The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Mistborn trilogy. Set in a world where people are divided into noblemen and skaa, or slaves, at birth, The Final Empire tells the stories of two skaa thieves (Vin and Kelsier) who happen to be mistborn – people with the ability to use the powers of all “Allomantic” metals rather than just one. Sixteen-year-old Vin is focused only on surviving when leader of a successful thieving crew, Kelsier, realises her power and recruits her for an impossible job – freeing the skaa by bringing down the thousand-year-old Final Empire and the immortal Lord Ruler, the king who calls himself a god.
The most I’d heard about the Mistborn series before reading The Final Empire was about its amazing and original magic system, Allomancy, which doesn’t sound quite so original after you’ve heard numerous book reviewers explain how ingesting certain metals gives an Allomancer certain powers in great detail. I’d actually heard more about the magic system than the story, which annoys me, as the story is what I really loved about the book, whereas I felt that the descriptions of how the characters use their Allomancy to achiece various feats slowed it down a bit. Mostly, I skimmed over these parts and just focused on the results rather than how they were done.
Despite being immediately drawn in by Sanderson’s writing style, it took me a while to get invested in the story and the characters. This may have been because I was reading quite slowly, but I also find it quite likely that it was because the first half of the story itself is a little slow; preparations are being made for the job, but little is truly happening and there is little risk yet. But this soon changes, and by the second half of the book, I couldn’t get it out of my head and wanted to do nothing but read, read, read.
Having said that I like Sanderson’s writing style, I must say that there’s nothing particularly special about it. This is no beautiful, flowing, literary prose; it is simple, matter-of-fact writing that gets the story told. I don’t know why it is that it draws me in so, but it’s something I, as a writer myself, will definitely have to look into when I reread Sanderson’s books.
The world was certainly an interesting one; it’s full of mysteries and unanswered questions. It took a little while to understand everything – there’s a fight scene near the beginning in which Kelsier uses Allomancy before Allomancy is properly explained to the reader, which got quite confusing – but I would say most of it was clear by, at latest, a third of the way through the book.
While numerous secondary characters didn’t stand out that much to me, I got really attached to some of the main characters, from Vin with her distrust, to Sazed with his knowledge and calmness, to Ham with his existential questions, to Kelsier with his ever-positive attitude. I also really liked the love interest; the two characters had enough chemistry that the pairing felt completely natural. I’m pretty picky when it comes to romantic subplots, but I felt this one was well-written – it wasn’t too obvious, it didn’t take over, and all the attraction was based on the compatibility of the characters’ personalities; sexual tension wasn’t even mentioned (miraculous!). It was a relationship I was more than happy to root for.
The best thing about this book, however, was undoubtedly the plot. Good gracious, does Sanderson know how to pull a devastating plot twist – or several. Prepare yourself for “wait, WHAT” moments, “oh S***” moments, and “oh god NO” moments. This book will give you all of them.
The one thing that disappointed me slightly was the lack of female characters; while Vin is one of our main perspective characters, the only other named female characters I can think of are noblewomen Shan and Kliss, and Kelsier’s late wife Mare, while the entire rest of the book is populated and ruled by men. At first, it felt rather like the rebel meetings in Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris – our one main female character is introduced to a merry band of rebellious men – though I am pleased to say that both the plot and the characters of The Final Empire quickly and drastically diverged from those of Elantris. Regardless, I feel it’s a shame that Sanderson’s books (The Final Empire not as much as Elantris) seem to say unless you’re this one special woman, you are destined to be secondary characters, preoccupied by pretty dresses and useless gossip, if you’re not housemaids. It’s a small, likely unintentional detail, but one that I noticed nonetheless.
The Final Empire, although the first book in a trilogy, currently seems to work very well as a standalone. While there are a number of unanswered questions – about Allomancy, about the Lord Ruler, his history, and his empire – I can’t really tell where the rest of the books are going to go. I find I prefer this, however: I do not feel like this is a series just for the sake of it, or that I’m being manipulated into reading (and buying) more books by an unresolved story. Instead, I feel like the sequels, should I choose to read them, will add more depth to the mostly-complete story I’ve already read. I’m intrigued to read more!
In conclusion, I would say that this is a must-read for any fantasy fans, except I find that saying that only makes me want to read a book less. So instead I will simply say that I much enjoyed reading The Final Empire and I highly recommend it.
Have you read The Final Empire? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!